Garden Clippings

By Mike Lang
December 2006
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POINSETTIA
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Poinsettias, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, pines and spruce are all plants we use to decorate our homes for the holidays. Their colors provide a sense of joy during a time when the outdoor garden is drab, if not dormant.

Poinsettias can bring extended holiday color into a home with just a little effort. These plants might be considered persnickety, but they really only require a couple of things to look their best.

Poinsettias will hold their color best if you provide nighttime temperatures in the 60s, and temperatures not exceeding 75 during the day. Placing these plants in the brightest naturally lit room of the house will be the best bet for great color.

Proper watering for poinsettias is a must. Watering too much will cause the plants to quickly decline in health, while not watering enough will cause them to drop foliage. A good rule for this is to check the soil each day by sticking your finger into the potting mix. When the mix begins to feel dry just below the surface, it's time to water. Always empty the drainage saucer after the water has percolated through the plant, so the roots will not stay too wet.

The blossoms of the amaryllis plant are also synonymous with the season. Large, colorful blooms can last three to four weeks with a little TLC. Like the poinsettia, this plant prefers cooler nights and warmer days. Watering doesn't have to be quite as precise as with the poinsettia, but too much or too little should be avoided if possible. After the plant begins to show its blooms, move it to a cooler room with less sunlight. This will extend the time the blooms will last.

Christmas cactus isn't quite as showy as the poinsettia or amaryllis plant. However, since it's easier to grow year-round, it brings holiday color into many homes. These plants are not so touchy about temperature. To perform best, the plants need bright, indirect light and constantly moist soil. They also don't like to be too crowded in the post, so if the number of flowers on your plants have diminished this year, spring would be a good time to move them into a larger pot.

For many of us, the most colorful plant we bring into the home during this season is a Christmas tree, and whether it's a pine or a spruce, there are a few things we need to do to keep it looking its best.

If you want to use a live tree this season, to be incorporated into the landscape after the holidays, you'll need to plan ahead and understand that this tree will be a short-term decoration in the home.

Live trees can be purchased either growing in a container, or balled and burlapped. They should not stay in the warm temperatures of your home for more than three or four days. Staying inside longer than that can cause damage to the tree when it's moved back outside to cold temperatures.

Make sure you have a hole dug before the ground is frozen. Store the soil you'll use to backfill the plant in a location where it won't freeze solid.

If the ground is already frozen, and you don't have a hole dug, but you still want to use a live tree, find a place in the garden where the tree will be out of the way, in which the plant ball or container can be covered with mulch to hold it until it can be planted.

After moving the live tree out of the house, let it adjust to the cooler weather in an unheated garage or other protected area before going to the unprotected home.


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